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KARACHI: Jaun Elia admired John Keats. Reason: the latter died of tuberculosis. Jaun found the disease awfully romantic and liberating. He liked expectorating blood, and penned a great many couplets on the subject.

Bol ker daad ke faqat do bol

Khoon thukwa lo shobdagar se

(Praise him, and the conjurer will cough up blood)

But for some odd reason, Jaun Elia’s poetry is not treated with the scholarly seriousness that it merits. All that poetry aficionados discuss about him at literary seminars and conferences, more often than not, is his antics, idiosyncrasies and peculiar mannerisms. They fail to understand that Jaun Elia’s poetry is the creative work produced in a ‘fine, fine frenzy’.

On Wednesday evening, the Arts Council, Karachi arranged a programme on the late Jaun Elia as a ‘soft launch’ of the International Urdu Conference that will commence on its premises from Nov 27 and continue till Dec 3. Satirist Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi presided over the event and writer Intizar Husain was its chief guest.

The programme kicked off with Javed Saba’s excerpted recital of Jaun’s grand poem, Darakht-i-Zard. Javed, a poet himself, did a decent job, but fluffed a few lines, which dampened his effort a tad.

Humourist Anwar Maqsood read out an imaginary letter written by the inimitable poet to him from paradise. It tickled the audience’s funny bones.

Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi read out an essay on the poet that he had penned a few years ago, and in his typical witty style narrated quite a few stories that elicited laughter and guffaws from all those who had gathered to listen to worthy critiques of Jaun Elia’s poetry. Yousufi touched upon the fact that the poet had a distinctive sense of humour and was a person who loved ‘fantasising’ about various aspects of life.

Artist Shahid Rassam told the audience that he had a close rapport with Jaun Elia and highlighted the philosophical and Sufi elements in his ghazals and nazms. Recounting one encounter with the poet, he said Jaun once philosophised, “When a thought starts assuming a concrete shape, its downfall begins.”

Jaun Elia’s close relative and scholar Mumtaz Saeed said Jaun’s poetry was influenced by the likes of John Keats and T.S. Eliot. He argued that Eliot’s poetry laments the spiritual hollowness in the West, a subject that can be found in some of Jaun’s poems.

Poetess Kishwar Naheed, in her pithy but profound piece, discussed, among other things, the spiritual element in Jaun’s verses.

Critic Ali Ahmed Fatimi, who had just arrived from India to take part in the International Urdu Conference, praised the poet terming his works wonderfully rebellious, and said the fact that Jaun had embraced ‘grief’, warts and all, tells us that he was deeply entrenched in a tradition that cannot be detached from intellectualism – a delightfully lethal combination.

But perhaps the programme’s most insightful comments came from none other than Intizar Husain. In his no more than three-minute-long speech he said that Jaun’s personality was an extension of his poetry. Jaun was the last of his kind, he concluded.